Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 1, 2013

Parents complain about after-school group

District says teachers don't like prohibition on meetings outside of class

by Chris Kenrick

Group projects in school emerged as a hot-button issue Tuesday, Feb. 26, as the Palo Alto Board of Education discussed the district's eight-month-old policy on homework.

A parent who is a member of the committee that helped draft the policy last year objected to a proposal to weaken a regulation that prohibited teachers from requiring group meetings outside of class.

Lauren Bonomi said the difficulty in scheduling group meetings outside of school "adds extra stress on these already over-scheduled kids.

"Group projects, when they need to be done outside of school, blow the roof off our house," Bonomi said.

With students busy with outside activities — including some sports practices that can run until 9:30 or 10 p.m. because of a shortage of field space — it becomes a "family problem" to schedule group meetings, she said.

"When you take it to two to three families, the problem becomes exponential," Bonomi said.

Bonomi's comments were echoed by another parent who said she had sat in on meetings of the homework committee.

"It takes more time to schedule the meeting than to have the meeting," she said.

Based on feedback from teachers, Associate Superintendent Charles Young said he was considering weakening a rule that bans "project-based assignments" that require group meetings outside of class.

Instead, Young said, it is the amount of time spent in those meetings, not the meetings themselves that should serve as the guideline.

Acknowledging the scheduling difficulties — but affirming the value of group assignments — board members said they would leave it to staff to clarify the language, since the rule in question is an "administrative regulation," not a board policy.

But they suggested it is premature to change regulations to a policy that's been in effect for less than a year.

Most did say they would support a proposed one-word change in the homework policy so that students who miss school due to unexcused absence will have the opportunity to make up missed work.

Young's proposal changes the words "shall be given the opportunity to make up missed work" to "may be given the opportunity to make up missed work" for a student with an unexcused absence.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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